By National Gardening Association Editors

Does your back ache, or do your wrists feel sore or your knees throb after a hard day's work in your garden? If you love to garden but your body isn't as young or nimble as it used to be, perhaps you should give yourself a break and try some new ergonomic tools. Ergonomics, also known as human engineering, is the study of how tools can be adapted to fit the needs of people. The goal is to design the tool so it creates less stress on the body. Manufacturers have taken this science and applied it to garden tools for those gardeners who still want to be active outdoors even though they might have more physical limitations. Ergonomic garden tools are designed to keep the body in neutral positions while working, lessening the amount of stress on joints and muscles. This allows gardeners to work while exerting less energy, so they can still enjoy all the pleasures and productivity of gardening.

The Right Position

It's not just a matter of using an ergonomically designed tool. Using the tool correctly also will help alleviate stress on your body. For example, when using hand tools, wrap you thumbs around the handle and don't push the tool with your thumb. Take frequent rests from repetitive motions such as pruning, and stop as soon as you feel pain. Pushing yourself could result in painful carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by injury to a nerve in the wrist. When carrying heavy objects, lift by squatting and using your knees, not your back. If lifting off an elevated surface, such as a truck bed, lean against the bed and pull the soil or mulch bag close to your body. Use a garden cart whenever possible, or use a tarp to drag a heavy object. When gardening all day, rotate tasks every half hour or so to use different muscle groups. Also, don't forget to stretch before and after your garden workout.

Tool Basics

Now that you've got the techniques down, here are some tools they will lessen the workload. Look for sturdy, lightweight tools. Also, don't forget to wear well-padded garden gloves.

Get a Grip

Many hand trowels, cultivators, and other small tools now come with cushioned handles. Although at first the difference between cushioned and non-cushioned handles is subtle, over time the reduced strain on hand and arm muscles is noticeable. Separate hand cushions can be purchased to retrofit existing lawn and garden tools, such as rakes and shovels.

Easy Reach Pruners

Some loppers, hedge shears, and multichange tools now come with a unique telescoping action. This allows the gardener to extend the pruner into a tree or shrub without having to dive headfirst into the bush or teeter from a ladder. These extended-handle tools save back, neck, and leg muscles. Also some of these tools come with cushioned grips for more comfort and stability when pruning. You can ease the strain of using hand pruners by choosing the size and style that best fits you. Pruners are available for different size hands, and some models are ergonomically designed to fit your hand better. Often pain from using garden tools comes from trying to use a tool that's too large for your hand.

Shovels & Rakes

Long-handled spades and lawn rakes are preferable to short-handled ones if you are trying to protect a cranky back. Grips help ease hand strain, while auxiliary handles attached to the shovel shaft provide an additional way to hold the shovel. Ergonomically designed lawn rake shafts have a bend in them which makes for less bending when raking up leaves and grass.

Knee Protection

It's hard for gardeners to avoid spending lots of time on their knees. The constant up and down of planting, weeding, and harvesting can take a toll on knee and ankle joints. Using knee pads to protect your delicate knees is one option. Another is to use a wheeled garden scooter designed so you can sit while you work and then easily scoot to the next spot.

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